With technology’s potential to revolutionise every aspect of the built environment now centre stage, I was delighted to be asked to sit on the judging panel for this year’s RESI hackathon.

Susan Freeman

For those of you wondering what a hackathon is, it is generally defined as a sprint-like event in which computer programmers, software developers, designers and others collaborate intensively over a short period on a software project.

Our talented and eager participants had just 24 hours to come up with a tech-based solution to the residential rental market’s deep-seated image problem, which hinders the promotion to ‘Generation Rent’ of even the new, state-of-the-art build-to-rent developments. 

They were tasked with coming up with a software solution to either boost the sector’s image or improve the quality of the rental accommodation itself. What a great opportunity to get our entrepreneurs to show how tech and innovation can provide creative solutions to tackle negative perceptions about renting.

Announcing the winners at the gala dinner, Johnny Sandelson of hackathon co-sponsor Westbourne Capital added his own individual view of a hackathon: “You get a group of enthusiastic young people who don’t know each other and give them a challenge. In a very short period of time, they mate, they conjoin and out of this comes innovation, which is the spark that creates great things.” I couldn’t have put it better myself.

It was inspiring to see creativity in action as our assorted tech wizards grouped into teams to work up their ideas. They came up with some great ideas. The winning entry was Life Cycle, a platform that allows tenants to acquire a small stake in their BTR schemes to help get a toe on the housing ladder. The runner-up was Healthy Home, an app designed to allow landlords and tenants to conduct health checks on rented properties to give renters peace of mind.

RESI Hackathon

The RESI Hackathon in action at Celtic Manor

Our hackathon was representative of a welcome focus in real estate on identifying the problems we need to fix and to match these with tech solutions.

The British Property Federation (BPF) has commissioned Smart Cities Catapult to carry out research into how tech can be harnessed to increase productivity throughout the real estate lifecycle. Look out for the report ‘Lost in Translation: how can real estate make the most of the proptech revolution?’

’Embracing technology’

The BPF has also launched a brand-new Technology and Innovation Programme to support the real estate sector in its digital transformation.

I have been working with Gary Chimwa, founder of FUTURE: PropTech, a global event dedicated to tech innovation in the real estate sector, to set up an advisory board of experts to guide research into the challenges faced by property companies. It is intended to inform the efforts of proptech start-ups.

According to Chimwa: “We have had a front-row seat in viewing the property industry shift from relative disinterest in technology to embracing it as a key part of the future of the entire sector. However, the culture still remains fairly closed and collaboration between companies is limited.” Hopefully more collaboration can be encouraged.

At Mishcon de Reya, we continue to embrace the practical application of tech in real estate through our MDR LAB incubator for tech start-ups. Each cohort includes a designated real estate start-up. This provides a wonderful two-way learning experience as our start-ups get to test and refine their product in our business and we get to trial their new concepts.

As the real estate sector increasingly appreciates the benefits tech can bring, a quote attributed to the late superstar Prince seems appropriate: “Technology is cool, but you’ve got to use it as opposed to letting it use you.” We seem to be moving in that direction.

Susan Freeman is partner at Mishcon de Reya